Companies donate building renovation for Pasadena nonprofit

When Barbara Huston took a look at the dilapidated Pasadena building that had been offered as new offices to the nonprofit organization she heads, she was taken aback.

"It was very dark, and there was a lot of mold. When I walked through, the carpet — it was like walking through a golf green after it rained." recalled the chief executive officer of Partners In Care, a 19-year-old agency devoted to helping senior citizens remain in their own homes. "I thought, 'Oh, my God,'"

That was last year.

Next week, the group will unveil its renovated new home with a thank-you gathering for the builders and contractors whose contributions of time, workmanship and materials turned an uninhabitable structure into a small office building in two months.

Their work will net Partners rent-free offices for two years. It also will allow the organization's thrift store, whose sales accounted for nearly one-fourth of the group's budget last year, to stay put and expand.

"It's a miracle. What project do you think about in September, and you've moved in in January?" said Huston, who is also one of the organization's founders.

The one-story building has a new roof, insulation, blue carpeting, heating, flooring, a kitchen and modern cream-colored offices. It has new bathrooms that are accessible to the disabled.

"It was a day care. When we looked at it, it had toilets that were 4 inches high, and most of the people we deal with need them" much higher, Huston said.

Partners In Care pairs volunteers who drive and do odd jobs for senior citizens who need rides and household repairs.

But its advocates also arrange for other services for aging clients. And it has a volunteer-staffed thrift store.

About 1,800 of its 2,400 participants — volunteers, people who receive services and those in both roles — are in Anne Arundel County, although Partners has spread to three other counties.

The sour economy has been a boon for the thrift shop. Last year, its sales poured $200,000 into Partners' $900,000 budget. Not only was the store's growing inventory increasingly eating into the office space at the Pasadena home of the organization, but it could have filled the entire rental space. A larger site was unaffordable.

Then Hospice of the Chesapeake made an offer: It had acquired 6 acres nearby, taking over the property of an engineering firm that went bankrupt. The site has four buildings, and for now, the hospice plans to renovate only the large office building.

Long-range plans call for creating a mini-campus of nonprofits that work with some of the same clients, can help each other and share some costs, said hospice president Michael McHale. A growing number of hospice clients could benefit from Partners' transportation and handyman services, he said.

"I said, 'If you will renovate, then we will count that toward your rent,'" McHale said.

Huston was hooked. The boutique could stay put, expand and make more money. Offices would relocate about one-quarter mile down Ritchie Highway.

In late September, Huston approached Phil Gibbs, president of Hamel Builders, who is known for his generosity to community nonprofits, about his possible help.

"And he said, 'We can talk about it.' He said, 'Let me talk to my team,'" she said.

Nearly a month later, as she drove past what she hoped would be Partners' new digs, she saw a heating unit in the driveway but didn't think much about it. She had bumped into Gibbs elsewhere, and when she inquired if he'd further considered her request, he told her things were "good."

She didn't know until late October — when she saw a Dumpster next to the building — that what he meant was work was already under way.

Gary Witt, a project manager with Hamel, coordinated the subcontractors and the other contractors. Hamel picked up the tab for some of the subcontractors' work, he said.

"A lot of the subcontractors donated all or a portion of their work. Some donated only the material and some only charged for labor. It was a mixture," Witt said.

In all, nearly two dozen companies pitched in, taking care of mold remediation, moving donated office furniture, supplying and installing heating and plumbing, and taking care of electrical needs.

"I don't think many of these guys saw each other, and they don't realize they were all part of what 22 companies did for us," said Huston.

The contributions covered the entire renovation and are valued at close to $80,000.

"There would have been no way we could have raised this extra money," Huston said. "Not within 60 days. I don't know if within six years."

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